Police departments across the Portland-metro region have agreed on a new, tougher approach to youth "flash mob crimes." So if a large group of young people use phones or computers to arrange to descend on a store, (or a TriMet train,) and any crime is committed, the young people involved will be taken to the Juvenile Detention Center. That's true even if the crime is a low-level offense, such as stealing a candy bar.
Christina McMahan Assistant Director of Juvenile Services Division for Multnomah County Department of Community Justice, made the announcement at the Northeast Portland Gang Task Force meeting Friday, Aug. 17. The protocol has been in force for four – five weeks, meaning several youth already have been processed through the detention center.
The protocol came in response to community concerns, McMahan said.
"We've had several incidents of young people causing very disruptive events," she said. "We needed to be proactive in developing a way to respond to these events."
McMahan said the intention was to prevent flash mob crimes from escalating into violence, which would not only endanger the community, but would send more youth to prison. Flash mob crimes were defined as crimes that occur after a group of people agree by phone or computer to gather in overwhelming numbers at a location.
"It just takes a moment to turn violent and next thing you know the whole trajectory of young people's lives is turned around and they are facing Measure 11 robbery charges," she said.
Troutdale, Gresham, Fairview, and Portland police all are on board with the protocol, which means taking youth to detention for crimes that previously might have been seen as too minor to prosecute. Anyone over 18 who is on probation or parole, would be sent back to jail. Youth might be kept overnight. All cases will be referred to the DA's office "for review."
Antoinette Edwards, director of the office of Youth Violence Prevention said the intent is to intervene and bring services to youth and families that will help keep youth out of further trouble.
"The big element of this is that we're going to make this a restorative process," Edwards said. "If you make a mistake and you might have caused the community harm, we want to make sure you understand the harm you have caused and can be accountable."
Restorative Justice approaches focus on helping offenders understand their mistakes and make restitution.
Craig Bachman, juvenile detention supervisor, said several youth have been detained for flash mob crimes.
"It's working very well," he said. "We are working to prevent the behavior from escalating into something more serious."
Police say that since the protocol was put into effect they have seen only one incident on TriMet.
"This allows for a sanction and it doesn't necessarily criminalize the first offenders who are just stupid or caught up in peer pressure," Mayor Adams told the task force. "But it does allow for that intervention."
Corrections research has found that incarcerating youth for low-level offenses can result in increased criminality not less.
"Research shows that reliance on these institutions neither effectively protects the public nor rehabilitates youth," says the Annie E Casey Foundation in "A Road map for Juvenile Justice Reform."
"In fact, recidivism studies routinely show that 50 to 80 percent of youth released from juvenile correctional facilities are rearrested within 2 to 3 years—even those who were not serious offenders prior to their commitment."
Read: "Flash Robs" How Kids Acting Up became the Media's Latest Boogeymen